School of Life Sciences

Left: Dr Mfundo Maseko in the field and right, at his graduation.

African Crowned Eagle Champion Earns PhD

‘To God be the glory. I dedicate this PhD to my family; I could have not completed it without their exceptional support. A big thank you to my grandmother Mrs J. Maseko for her incredible support and prayers.’

These are the heartfelt words of Madadeni resident, Dr Mfundo Maseko.

Maseko graduated with a PhD in Ecological Sciences, with a dissertation that focused on factors affecting the persistence of African crowned eagles (Stephanoaetus coronatus) in an urban mosaic landscape in KwaZulu-Natal. He was supervised by Professor Colleen Downs and Dr Manqoba Zungu, to whom he also expressed his heartfelt gratitude for their immeasurable support, motivation and belief in him. ‘They kept me going during difficult times,’ he said.

‘Mfundo explored the conservation implications for this threatened raptor by determining their occupancy and detection probability; comparing characteristics of their nests; assessing local perceptions and attitudes towards raptors; and evaluating how extreme rainfall events may influence the long-term viability of the local population of crowned eagles,’ said Downs.

His research focused on the mosaic forest areas of eThekwini Municipality. ‘I investigated the influence of the conservation of forests and public attitudes on the persistence of African crowned eagles, and how climate change will likely affect such populations,’ he said. ‘Conservation of forests and peoples’ attitudes can assist in the conservation of wildlife species, especially in human-dominated landscapes.’

Maseko’s research is significant as it provides knowledge on the potential impacts of urbanisation and climate change on the persistence of a globally Near Threatened raptor species. ‘Although thriving in some environments, several raptor species will be severely affected,’ he explained.

‘Growing up, I was always curious about what was happening inside forests, what types of animals were there and how they were living. After completing my masters, which investigated the effects of fragmentation and forest structural components on the diversity of forest bird species, my love for forest birds deepened,’ he said.

Not surprisingly, the crowned eagle aficionado enjoys bird watching in his spare time. He gives back to his community by assisting high school learners with their studies and university applications, and plans to continue his involvement in science education in townships and rural areas. He also hopes to conduct research that prioritises the conservation of natural habitats and climate change mitigation strategies.

Mfundo said he chose UKZN due to the quality of education offered and its globally renowned scientists.

Words: Sally Frost

Photographs: Supplied and Sandile Ndlovu